Poster for the documentary “Persistence of Vision” by Kevin Schreck.
On March 18 students at MTSU were given the opportunity to view a breathtaking documentary titled “Persistence of Vision” by Kevin Schreck. The documentary’s subject is the animator Richard Williams and the story of his unfinished masterpiece “The Theif and the Cobbler”, which had the potential to be one of the greatest animated films of all time. The film began production in 1964 and was lost by Richard Williams to Warner Bros. in 1991 due to Williams’s failure to meet the deadline. It was then re-done, butchered and released by Warner Bros. Studios in 1993.
Zigzag, one of the films antagonists. Ironically the film’s true Antagonist could arguably be its creator.
“Persistence of Vision” entertains, informs and envelops its audience in the tragic story of an artist and his unfinished work, coupled with scenes (both finished and pencil tests) from the movie that awe the audience with their intricacy and beauty. The film offers a behind the scenes viewing of the making of this masterpiece that has never before been so easily accessible. The documentary itself offers such a visually appealing experience that it nearly replicates what viewing the complete “The Thief and the Cobbler” could have been like at time, but in many ways more intimate because the viewer sees the process, struggles and story behind the art.
“The Chase Scene” and example of the films spectacular illusionist animation.
Richard Williams began working on his would-be masterpiece in 1964 with his own personal studio behind him. Richard was known for being meticulous and a perfectionist. Many animators refused to work for him. Williams would have animators constantly reanimate scenes after hours of work until his exact vision was replicated even down to the smallest details. For 20 years Williams worked on his film by self producing with profits from work the studio would do for outside companies, mostly commercials. The studio was losing money and Williams was becoming unsure how he would continue to fund his work until its completion.
Richard Williams knew his art inside and worked meticulously and thoroughly.
Finally in 1988 the film ” Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, for which Richard Williams was director of animation, was released and was received extremely well. The film blended live-action film with 2-d animation in a way it had never been done before. Upon the films success Richard Williams and his project caught the eye of Warner Bros. Studios. Warner Bros. offered Williams a deal in 1988 stating that they would fund his film if he could complete it by 1991, however if the film was not complete by then Warner Bros. would seize the rights to the film and offer its completion to another animation studio. In 1991 the film was near completion, but not close enough to meet the requirements of the contract Williams had entered with the studio. In 1992 Warner Bros. seized the footage and rights to the film and gave the film to Fred Calvert who added new animation (not up to Williams standard), re dubbed the film and added musical numbers. The butchered film was released in the U.K. under the title “The Princess and the Cobbler” in 1993, also later released in the U.S. as “Arabian Knight” in 1995. Neither version was well received.
The main character Tac originally had no lines in the film.
Original Tac concept page
The second main character the Thief (also originally unvoiced) as he wanders through the inside of a large war machine.
“Persistence of Vision” contains a plethora of pencil test, concept art, and even unused complete original animation that is all breathtaking and allows the audience to witness some of the beauty that would have been in a finished version by Richard Williams. The animation in the original film is full of illusions of three dimensions in pencil and paint. The interaction between the characters and the backgrounds creates fantastical illusions sometimes even used for humor, which doesn’t take away from how impressive these tricks are. In the documentary you are able to see the amazing camera angles and movements that Williams was able to achieve because of the medium of animation. Richard Williams took the medium of animation to a whole new level and demonstrated its nearly limitless potential.
Schreck was also able to compile enough interviews with actual co-workers and friends of Williams to paint the most accurate picture possible of what actually occurred behind the scenes. Thanks to Kevin Schreck audiences around the world have been able to connect with this story and become inspired. Even though Williams was not able to finish this work of art what he did create was still awe inspiring and his true story has a beauty in it all its own that Schreck was able to bring to life in his documentary.
“The War Machine” a complete scene from the original film. The clip was released by the studio to show their progress. The release of this clip by Williams caused great anticipation for the film.
Sadly due to copyright on some of the footage used in the documentary it can only be seen at film festivals and private screenings and can not be released to DVD. This story is one that needs to be spread and the footage featured in the documentary is something all animators, film lovers and audiences in general should experience. The documentary is currently touring around the world and tour dates can be found on the Facebook page of the film https://www.facebook.com/PersistenceOfVisionOfficialDocumentaryPage , and if you find you have an opportunity to view it know that it is an adventure that you do not want to miss.
Trailer for “Persistence of Vision”